Tollway denies patronage in hiring state lawmaker's relative, but won't release resume

The Illinois tollway's refusal to provide the resume of a politically connected employee hired as general manager of engineering is “troubling,” a political reform expert said.

In April 2017, the agency hired Laura Durkin for the position that reports directly to the chief engineer at a salary of $80,016 annually. Laura Durkin is the sister-in-law of Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.

Tollway authorities said she was chosen out of 10 other applicants because “she had the best skill set of the candidates considered for the job including management experience, organizational skills and detail focus.”

Jim Durkin was not involved in the hiring, tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said.

However, the agency denied a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request seeking Laura Durkin's resume and did not provide any specifics of her education or previous employment.

Disclosure of information on resumes is “highly personal” and of “minimal interest to the public,” officials said.

“This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that the tollway is refusing to give or provide a simple resume that would clear up this issue,” said Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Chairwoman Susan Garrett.

Laura Durkin declined to comment and neither Jim Durkin nor his spokesman returned calls.

Meanwhile, FOIA expert and attorney Don Craven said the law allows for a resume to be disclosed.

“Her background that qualifies her for this position is information that bears on her public duties in this position and is not a matter of personal privacy,” Craven said.

The agency responded that because Durkin's resume “describes her professional responsibilities prior to her employment, they do not relate to her public duties,” and her “right to privacy outweighs any legitimate interest in obtaining the information.”

Garrett, a former Democratic state senator from Lake Forest, noted that “releasing a simple resume seems like an ordinary action for any government body to take — what do they have to hide?”

Watchdogs say transparency is especially needed in Illinois government after corruption scandals involving patronage, nepotism and pay-to-play politics involving both Democrats and Republicans. Tollway board members are appointed by the governor.

Asked if the public should be concerned whether patronage was a factor, McGinnis said, “no one from the tollway was contacted by Rep. Jim Durkin regarding her application, nor was he listed as reference on her application. The contention that patronage was somehow in play is not applicable.”

The job description requires a bachelor's degree and related experience, including a minimum of five years management experience in administering construction and professional services contracts.

The general manager is described as a “key staff and resource person” to the chief engineer.

Tollway officials said the job entails oversight of the Engineering Department contract services unit, document control group and web-based project management team. That involves assisting tollway engineers and managers with processing contract paperwork and complying with documentation procedures involving 240 contracts.

The engineering manager also manages the flow of contract documentation from advertising bids to closeout and works with the diversity, procurement, legal and finance departments.

State records show Laura Durkin does not have a professional engineer's license. However, McGinnis said the job “is not required to be filled by a professional engineer, and the previous employees in this position were not engineers, nor did they have construction or engineering experience.”

The tollway is in the midst of a 15-year, $12 billion rebuilding program and is embarking on a $4 billion redo of the Tri-State, both of which involve hiring multiple engineering, construction and other firms.

The previous general manager of engineering made more than $120,000, according to the Illinois comptroller's database.

The Daily Herald has appealed the FOIA request denial to the Illinois attorney's general's office.

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